A skilled job with a view — could this be your next career?
Imagine working in an “office” 200 feet in the air with miles-long views of farmland and greenery. If you’re mechanically inclined and physically fit — and you’re not afraid of heights — this could be your next career.
With wind energy production surging in the United States, wind turbine technician is one of the fastest growing jobs in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It pays relatively well: The median annual salary is $53,880, with high-earners making around $80,000. And the training takes only a couple of years.
What does a wind turbine technician do?
Wind turbines turn wind into electricity. They vary in size and are made up of self-propelling blades, a rotor, a main shaft, a gear box and a generator. Most wind turbines have a life expectancy of more than 20 years, but like any machine, they require regular maintenance and occasional repairs. That’s where the wind turbine technician comes in.
The windtech performs tasks like changing filters and troubleshooting and repairing electrical, mechanical, and hydraulic components and systems. Let’s say the blades need to be repaired. The technician would be tasked with removing, transporting, repairing and re-installing them. A windtech could be in charge of a few wind turbines or many.
The job requires technical knowledge, mechanical and electrical skills and physical ability. You need to be comfortable working at great heights, in confined spaces and outside. And you need to be in shape — only the largest turbines have elevators, and you may be hauling equipment and parts up with you.
There are wind turbine technician training programs at community college and universities all over the United States. For example, the Des Moines Area Community College offers a two-year Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree that will prepare you for a career in wind turbine technology. The program includes math, computer, mechanical and welding classes and costs $11,472.
Workers in high demand
Wind power is the largest source of renewable energy in the United States. In 2017, wind energy generated a record amount of electricity, with no signs of slowing down.
There are just under 1,000 large wind farms in 39 states and 550 wind energy manufacturing facilities in 44 states. South Dakota, Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma all get 30 percent of their electricity from wind power. With wind energy growing so fast, there’s a high demand for wind turbine technicians.
The hope is that these jobs might be a partial solution to declining jobs in other blue collar industries, even coal mining.
“If we can tap into that market and also help out folks that might be experiencing some challenges in the workforce today, I think that it can be a win-win situation,” said David Halligan, chief executive of wind-turbine manufacturer Goldwind Americas to the New York Times.
While most states have some wind turbines, attending school in a state that prioritizes wind energy, like Iowa, could help you transition into a long-term job quickly. Wind generates 36 percent of the state’s electricity, and there could be some 17,000 wind energy jobs in Iowa by 2020 according to one prediction.
For people who are good with their hands and willing to spend two or more years in school for a career in an industry that’s taking off like a kite, the winds of fortune appear to be blowing.
Danielle Small is a freelance writer who covers various industries and creates content for global brands and Fortune 500 companies.